New York

Richard Meier

If Richard Meier’s buildings and sculptures were before and after photographs, nothing less than a nuclear apocalypse would lie between them. While his clean, white, pristine buildings all stem from a rationalist, Modernist tradition, Meier’s sculptures look more like architectural models for the end of the world. Useless platforms, passageways that end abruptly, precarious towers of obscure purpose, ruptured cubicles, tortured metal armatures, steel excrescences that look less like decorative motifs than unneeded prosthetics—it all gives the impression of a bomb dropped into a planned community. There is still something rationalist about the way Meier approaches these sculptures: he collects the occasional found object and scraps of models from his studio in L.A., ties them together, makes ceramic molds of them, and then casts the agglomerations in stainless steel. It’s a methodical procedure, and the results look vaguely modular, as in Areneberg (all works 1994), except that the organizing principle has been thrown out of whack: rooms are turned on their heads, foundations on their sides, stairs straightened and stretched into twisted parabolas. In short, if Meier’s buildings are still machines for living, his sculptures represent their fall into desuetude and decay.

The process of creating these sculptures may seem redemptive or recuperative, in that the artist is collecting the waste products of his own architectural endeavors and putting them to good use in his sculptures, and yet the irony is that the end results don’t look redeemed so much as ruined. This is especially true of Rohr, a large work splayed on the floor like a scarred landscape, metal struts and spindles sticking up like broken bones. Meier tends to leave the surfaces of his sculptures unfinished, using accidents and by-products of the casting process to add to the excoriated appearance of works like Rohr. You can’t help but wonder if somehow the sculptures serve an apotropaic function: whether Meier isn’t rehearsing the destruction of his pristine buildings in advance, hoping thereby to ward it off. After all, chaos, ruin, and catastrophe are never masterminded by an architect strictu sensu; what often brings buildings to their ruin is simply nature, or sometimes a human agent, although you could scarcely call Harry Truman an architect for having decided to drop the bomb. Perhaps, then, Meier is attempting to expand the purview of the architect not just to include another medium, but to include destruction itself. He’s not recuperating his throwaway models so much as prefiguring the annihilation of his own esthetic.

Keith Seward